Feline Vaccines and Why They’re Important

Feline vaccines are an important part of keeping your cat healthy and happy.
Feline vaccines are an important part of keeping your cat healthy and happy.

There’s no doubt about it: feline vaccines are incredibly important. Cats are not small dogs. Believe it or not, veterinarians hear this phrase over and over throughout veterinary school, and it is completely accurate. Cats have many unique medical, behavioral, and social traits that set them apart.

Unfortunately, because of this, cats are often overlooked when it comes to routine preventative veterinary care. As a result, we are often diagnosing advanced diseases in cats that either could have been prevented or better managed if routine veterinary care was provided. Below I will discuss an overview of standard feline vaccines and why these are important.

Because cats age much more quickly than humans, preventative care or ‘wellness’ exams are recommended yearly for young to middle aged cats and at least twice yearly for senior (> 8 years of age) cats or cats with chronic medical issues. The goals of this visit are to provide a comprehensive physical exam, update feline vaccines, dispense routine deworming, perform diagnostics, and discuss any issues or concerns that you, the owner, have noted. The information obtained from this visit provides a year-to-year baseline about your cat’s health and allows us to more quickly detect abnormalities or changes that were not noted the year before.

Feline vaccines are a cornerstone of feline preventative care. Many highly contagious and potentially deadly infections have been basically eliminated from our feline populations thanks to the development of very effective and safe vaccines. The American Association of Feline Practioners (AAFP) categorizes vaccines as either core or non-core. Core vaccines are recommended for all cats, whereas non-core vaccines should be administered when the cat’s risks of potential exposure are high. The three core vaccinations include FVRCP (also known as feline distemper), FeLV (leukemia), and Rabies.

FVRCP:

  • Protects from feline panleukopenia, calicivirus, and herpesvirus-1
  • Kitten series usually involves at least 3 vaccines until the kitten is older than 16 weeks
  • The vaccine is boostered 1 year after the kitten series then every 3 years
  • Lifelong boosters of this vaccine are recommended

FeLV:

  • Protects from feline leukemia virus
  • Kitten series involves two vaccines given between 8-16 weeks of age
  • The vaccine is boostered 1 year after initial series
  • Indoor only cats do not require further boosters
  • Outdoor, indoor/outdoor cats, or cats living with FeLV positive cats should be boostered yearly
  • Kitten series is considered core because kittens are highly susceptible to leukemia infection and disease and the exact future environment of the kitten is not always known

Rabies:

  • Initial kitten vaccine is given at 12 weeks or older
  • Boostered 1 year later
  • Yearly boosters with a preservative free (non-adjuvented) feline rabies vaccine is recommended to help reduce the risks of a tumor that, although rare, has been associated with injections including the 3-year rabies vaccine.

Non-core vaccines include FIV and Bordetella and should be administered only after a thorough discussion with your veterinarian.

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